• impugn •
im-pyun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: Call into question, attack as false or question the integrity of.
Notes: Here is a word whose spelling we must watch out for. It is often misspelled
impune. We also must be careful not to confuse it with impute, which means "attribute", as 'to impute motives unbecoming a senator'. It comes with a passive adjective, impugnable, and a personal noun, impugner. We have a choice of nouns, impugnment or impugnation, whichever sounds less offensive to you.
In Play: We can impugn others for small infractions: "Lucinda Head's mothering skills were impugned for forgetting her kids and leaving then in the supermarket." We can also impugn things larger: "Roscoe impugned the motivation of corporations that offer subscriptions to their product at a reduced rate for the initial few months."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Old French impugner "assail", inherited from Latin impugnare "to fight against, assault, attack". This explains the spelling of the word: French GN is pronounced [ny] (but English does not allow consonantal [y] at the end of words). This word is made up of an assimilated form of in- "in(to)" + pugnare "to fight". The [n] of the prefix would "assimilate" to (become more like) the first sound of the stem. Pugnare is a verb based on pugnus "fist", inherited from PIE pung- "to stick, stab, to prick", the nasalized form of root peug-. This PIE root is also the source of Greek pygme "fist, boxing" and pyktes "boxer". Latin used the nasalized form for pungere "to pierce, prick" and the unnasalized form in pugil "pugilist, boxer". We can also see the results of the PIE word in a series of borrowed English words like poignant, point, pounce, punctual, puncture, pungent, and compunction. (Lest we impugn the contribution of Rob Towart, a regular contributor of Good Words, let us thank him right now for today's.)
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